Song One(2)

Seven years ago John Carny’s award winning classic Once screened at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and completely changed the genre of Indie Musicals.  It was a runaway success, and incited a fervor in Hollywood producers who proceeded to flood the medium with clone after clone, until the genre’s novelty had become convoluted, dull and devoid of all substance.  This cloning process, is most certainly how films like Song One made and accepted readily onto the festival circuit. To say Song One is an exact clone of Once would an exaggeration, but Carney’s work most certainly served as a heavy inspiration for this piece.

Song One’s opening scene essentially mimics that of Once.  We are introduced to the character of Henry, played by Anton Yelchin doppelgänger Ben Rosenfield, as he performs a bevy of new songs to a desolate and uninterested New York metro station, who show what little appreciation they have, in the form of small coinage.  Around the two minute mark, in a Meet Joe Black moment, Henry is rendered comatose after he accidentally steps in front of an unwitting taxi driver, and with that, his music career may be forever stunted.

When Henry’s older sister Franny, played by Anne Hathaway, finds out about the news she must return home from her life abroad and act as caretaker for her sleeping brother.  Her efforts to help him wake from his coma send her on a collision course with her brother’s musical idol and inspiration, James Forester (Johnny Flynn).  The two quickly bond over the condition of Franny’s brother, and that’s where the film’s over-dramatic narrative begins to develop; or at least attempts to. On paper, this movie had absolutely everything going for it –  a beautiful score, a top notch cast, and a narrative that had the potential to be both moving and uplifting.  Unfortunately, the film never delivers on it’s potential.

First there is Anne Hathaway’s character, your typical andro-indie girl, who is supposed to be romantic lead in this film.  The problem is that her character is completely devoid of any depth.  There is no moment of clarity for her, she doesn’t change for the worst or change for the best, and comes off as  hollow and non-essential.  Writer/Director Kate Barker-Froyland’s script was structured in a way that Ms. Hathaway’s talents were never allowed to flourish.  In fact, the best acting she did was in a Cinemax After Dark style sex scene that echoed the films of the 90s and completely crossed the line into excess.  Let’s not even discuss the dull and placid Mother, who is played by a usually amazing Mary Steenburgen.

Barker-Froyland’s script also intermittently introduces a few interesting plot devices, but the end of the movie leaves almost every one of them unsolved and completely fails to justify their introduction in the first place.  This gives the film the feeling of a rough draft instead of a final product.  The songs, most of which were composed by Indie legends Jonathan Rice and Jenny Lewis, are truly highlights of the film, but in reality, they aren’t enough to add any significant amount of cohesion to the story.

There is a Taiwanese idiom which roughly translates to “What appears as a lemon, is really an apple”.  Though the meaning gets hazy in translation it essentially refers to things that are dressed up to look extravagant, but fail to deliver on their exterior qualities upon further investigation.  This is Song One in a nutshell.  To fully enjoy what Song One has to offer, I suggest you just by the soundtrack, and skip the rest of the clutter.